With its quaint color scheme, clean design, sparkling signage and charming pots of succulents that owner/operator Samantha Ribb loves but is certain she can’t keep alive, Aurora’s Chug Coffee does not much look the part of a roadside bar.
And to be clear, the brand-new espresso stand does not serve alcohol. Nevertheless, a bartender of sorts is how Ribb views her role.
“I just really love being a barista,” Ribb says with a grin. “I always tell people: It’s like being a bartender but without the drunks. Instead of dealing with alcohol, I caffeinate them and make their day a lot better.”
Running a coffee stand has always been her dream, according to both her and Paula Robson, her mother and business partner. The two also collaborated on their previous business, R&R Cafe, which was located inside of Wilsonville Subaru.
With their friendly service and quality products (they serve the famously smooth Dillanos Coffee Roasters, more commonly known as DCR), the pair gained a following despite the unusual location.
“It definitely took some hard work,” Ribb admits. “You know, I had to tell people: ‘It’s completely open to the public. It’s located inside a car dealership, but I promise, they’re not going to try to push a car on you.'”
R&R was forced to close in April, because the Canada-based owners of Wilsonville Subaru feared the cafe might put the dealership at higher risk for a coronavirus outbreak. Ribb and Robson understood the decision, but decided to move on when the owners could not provide any certainty as to when they’d be allowed to reopen.
A mobile stand was actually already in the works, because the mother/daughter team wanted a more visible location.
“I wanted something that could be easily accessible to people,” Ribb says, “because I knew what we had was good and I wanted people to see that.”
What the stand lacked, however, was a name. They liked the wordplay that came with R&R, which stands for rest and relaxation, of course, but also the owners’ last names. Ribb wanted her dog, Jack, to be the mascot of the business, but wasn’t sure how to incorporate him into the name.
One day, it hit her to name the stand after his breed: He’s a chug — part chihuahua, part pug. Of course, the wordplay still exists there, as well.
“Who doesn’t need to chug coffee every once in a while?” she says with a laugh.
The silhouette on the Chug Coffee logo is actually that of her dog, Jack. Several menu items are also named in his honor, including “The Jack,” a caramel macchiato with a twist of cardamom, and “The Underbite” (sorry, Jack), which is a dark chocolate mocha with a slight spicy kick.
“The Lula,” a dazzling mishmash of white chocolate, brown sugar, cinnamon, hazelnut and more, is named after Ribb’s other canine companion (who is also a rescue). Ribb and Robson plan to carry through with the dog theme, including eventually asking patrons to share pictures of their own pets and naming monthly specials after them, and donating a portion of proceeds to animal-friendly causes.
Chug offers coffee, espresso drinks and its signature creations, hot tea, Lotus energy drinks, coffee cake and muffins, Italian soda, chai, lemonade, hot cocoa and, of course, dog treats. Though the stand will offer a different dynamic than the shop, Ribb is looking forward to the challenge, and even admits she has always wanted to do a drive-thru.
“In the shop, you know, I could always chat with customers when it was slow,” she said. “I’m not necessarily going to have that here. It will be quick snippets. I’ll get maybe five minutes with them before I send them on their way. But knowing that they’ll be driving away with a smile on their face — that’s the most important part.”
In Aurora, Chug replaces the city’s former roadside espresso stand, Whole Latte Love, which closed years ago. Chug Coffee is located at 21030 Highway 99E, in the parking lot of Portland Laser Engraving, more or less across the street from the Aurora Post Office.
Chug is planning a soft opening next week, with its official grand opening tentatively set for Monday, Aug. 24.
“I’m really excited to meet some new people, serve up some good coffee and have some conversation with some people,” Ribb says, then adds with a laugh: “I miss people.”
Don’t we all, Samantha. Don’t we all.